Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema knows that some fans got concerned when Samford pulled ahead 21-17 of the Razorbacks Saturday night in Little Rock.
After all, they had watched their team lose in overtime to Louisiana-Monroe last year inside the same War Memorial Stadium.
But the coach, whose 2-0 team will host Southern Mississippi (0-2) on Saturday in Fayetteville, wasn't fazed in what turned into a 31-21 win over the Bulldogs.
"I never was, whether you believe me or not, I was never really concerned," Bielema said. "When we're behind, you have a little alarm that goes off in your head and realize you've got to score points. But I thought our fourth-quarter mentality would kick in. It was just a matter of time."
Bielema – who said he expects to have injured players Trey Flowers, Rohan Gaines, Keon Hatcher and possibly even Austin Tate and Otha Peters back along with suspended linebacker Jarrett Lake this week - credited senior defensive tackle Robert Thomas for leading the charge last Saturday both vocally and with his play on the field.
"...Robert Thomas went nuts and really did a nice job of leading by verbal communication," Bielema said. "He's got the respect of the players, and to play the game he did, not just offense and defense, I see him as a guy who's really, really grown in so many ways since we've been here that's been awesome."
Bielema doesn't feel like his team lost confidence from the game on Saturday despite having to rally past an FCS team that it was favored over by 35 points.
"I would say the opposite," Bielema said. "I think it builds it. You look around the world of college football and you see so many teams that maybe on paper shouldn't match up and yet you see the scores on Saturdays. If the team is executing well in today's day and age with spacing and tempo and all that stuff, it can make a game play out pretty even score-wise.
"Yet, when it comes time to win or lose, that's when you hope those personalities took over," Bielema added. "But I would agree with you on the standpoint that it was tested. And to see it come out on top. Now if we hadn't won that game, without a doubt, I think it would have rattled their confidence, big time."
Bielema chalks it up to a learning process.
"I think this group, for where they're at, and the baby steps we're taking, it was more of, like I said, a big learning day," Bielema said. "We started that up front with, to me, a lot of the things that misfired on Saturday weren't physically driven. They were mentally driven. They had to lock themselves in.
"We started the game extremely well," Bielema said. " I liked their preparation. I liked the way they felt Saturday morning. To go through our walk through and then to come back down and take the first two drives and score, to stop them defensively.
"Then late in the second quarter we got in a funk and then obviously the third quarter was a big fog," Bielema continued. "And that was just a guy here, a guy there, a miscue, a misfire, an underthrow, an overthrow. Defensively, not getting everything lined up the right way. And then the fourth quarter, the way to finish it, showed me that they snapped back in and they showed how dominant they can when they're playing."
Arkansas and Southern Mississippi will meet Saturday in an 11:21 a.m. start – a kickoff time that Bielema embraces.
"I was used to the 11 o'clock games (at Wisconsin)," Bielema said. "I know that's probably not a popular thing with the fan base but it's one I am used to. Our coaches - we had a couple of practices that started right at 11 o'clock during fall camp so we could emulate getting our guys up five hours before the game, with a pregame meal four hours before practice so we tried to simulate that early kickoff. Hopefully, our guys will be ready to roll."
Southern Mississippi will come into the game with the nation's longest FBS losing streak at 14.
That's 0-12 last season under former head coach Ellis Johnson and 0-2 this season under new head coach Todd Monken.
"Well, we don't really talk much about last year's performance, obviously, with the coaching changes and everything that went into it," Bielema said. "We talk about a team that got better from game one to game two. And again, I think this game is a lot like every other game that we approach. It's not necessarily what they do, it's what we do.
"Even when we're going to go into a game later in the season, we may be playing somebody that's undefeated or won x number of games in a row," Bielema said. "I'm not really going to talk about that. I'm going to talk about what's going to show up on Saturday and play."
The Eagles opened the season with a 22-15 home loss to Texas State, coached by former Alabama and Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione.
Southern Miss had six turnovers (four fumbles) in their opener and and then four more (three interceptions) last Saturdaywhile losing 56-13 at Nebraska.
California quarterback transfer Allan Bridgeford had two of his first quarter passes picked off and returned for touchdowns while going 21-of-35 for 222 yards.
He passed for 377 yards in the loss to Texas State, but the Eagles have only rushed for 85 yards total in their first two outings.
"Southern Miss is obviously an 0-2 football team but you saw a big jump from game one to game two for them," Bielema said. "They have a quarterback that I think does a nice job. He is a one-year wonder, coming from Cal he's been involved in big games. You can see he can throw the ball around. They moved the ball, especially early against Nebraska. They had some critical turnovers that led to points, two of them for scores.
"Defensively they've got a couple of good players up front, a very very active linebacker corps," Bielema added. "You can see that the defensive coordinator is doing a nice job that they had a big improvement from game one to game two."
Monken was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State the previous two seasons.
"Again, they're no -huddle," Bielema said. "I don't think anybody's at the supersonic speed, you know that. A couple of times they'll speed it up, just like everybody else, but obviously the head coach, coming out of Oklahoma State and everything they do. You see they're trying to do those same type of things that they've done in the past.
"So, it's probably a little bit of a work in progress for them too because of that quarterback coming in for the first time with this group of guys," Bielema said. "They have a good group of receivers, they've got a couple of running backs that they use and rotate through, as well as offensive linemen. Bottom line, they're going to get better as well."
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